Last week I had invitations that both relate to homelessness. Not my temporary, seeking-a-house-to-buy homelessness, but the serious kind, often symptomatic of mental illness, poverty, or addiction. Two vaunted organizations, National Alliance on Mental Illness and Union Station, sponsored their annual fundraisers.
NAMI hosts an October walkathon in Santa Monica. A dear couple I know whose daughter suffers schizophrenia invited me to join the walk. The local NAMI chapter rented a yellow school bus for the trip across town. Riders included "consumers" (who have been patients or those who live in board and care) and "supporters" (who are everyone else). Really, it wasn't that apparent as to who was in which category. But it did cause me to think back to my college job as a "mobility trainer," teaching developmentally disabled adults to ride the public bus system. How confounded I felt back then, trying to navigate the RTD as it was called. How do people cope, I have since wondered, when they are disabled or hallucinatory or ill and need to commute?
The NAMI walk drew 3500 participants this year. I walked with my friends' daughter, and we chatted away about spirits, reincarnation, food, geography, and more random topics threaded by the most delicate of skeins. But this young woman with the blue marble eyes is so much healthier now than she was when psychotic breaks ravaged her and her family. Some credit must go to the tireless support and education offered by NAMI volunteers, as well as her extraordinary family who never falters in trying to provide a high quality of life. Mental illness affects all of us to varying degrees. Depression, addiction, organic brain problems: I saw the placards reminding us THERE IS NO HEALTH WITHOUT MENTAL HEALTH. NAMI's work will never end. But the solace and the information for supporters, consumers, and anyone else will be its legacy. The bus rolls again in October, 2011. All are welcome. Check out nami.org
That same night I was lucky enough to return to our beloved Pasadena Playhouse for Union Station's 11th annual benefit. Hector Elizondo, the USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra, the Yellowjackets and others donated their talents. Entering the Playhouse is its own happy homecoming. But since 1973 Union Station has given succor to those who find themselves in a rough patch or worse. Union Station's services include emergency and transitional shelter, meals, substance and mental illness outreach. The Pasadena Playhouse partnered with Union Station on this twinkly night so that others might not suffer colder nights in times to come. If you ever wish to contribute, there is a range of possibility and participation. See for yourself at firstname.lastname@example.org